Department in dysfunction? New Portsmouth police chief talks racism concerns, new policies

Portsmouth

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Back in April, the embattled Portsmouth Police Department came under fire after the former chief claimed not only was there systemic racism in the department, but that she was a victim of it.

So how are things now, six months after former chief Tonya Chapman’s departure?

Using emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA),
10 On Your Side raised the issues officers have with the department and gave new Chief Angela Greene the opportunity to respond to those concerns.

One of them: “Officers are turning off the in car camera’s manually so that none of their actions is recorded.”

Chief Greene responded: “It is no longer an issue. It has been corrected … it is something officers need to get used to with the new technology, but we no longer have those issues.”

Greene also addressed the concerns of racism in the department.

“I have not seen any extreme or systemic racism,” Greene said in response to an April interview with Chapman.

During the interview, Chapman said: “I was forced to resign. It was shocking to me … they did not want to take direction from me because I’m not a white male,” she said referring to some members of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Has she seen anything concerning so far as chief?

“No. Nothing alarming or concerning that I would not assume that any human being from different backgrounds, different cultures, different life experiences would not have.”

However, Greene did implement new training. “So we implemented cultural diversity and inclusion awareness training, as well as implicit bias training for the entire police department.”

Chapman hired Greene to be a deputy chief in charge of uniform patrol, and the two would privately discuss the issues facing the department.

“We discussed training, advanced technology and recruitment retention and morale. These are the same things we are continuing to work on today,” Greene said.

10 On Your Side raised concerns expressed in emails in the department, such as one concerned over perceived “support for nationalism … anti-LGBTQ … xenophobia.”  

Chief Greene quickly responded, “That is one individual person’s opinion in an email. We have an LGBTQ liaison that works closely with our LGBTQ community.”

Another email reads: “we have not yet successfully worked with Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales.”  

That seems to be changing too. “She came and taught our newest officers before they hit the streets about procedural justice.”

Greene leaves the impression Morales is a lot more involved.

The chief is implementing a new state of the art shoot, don’t shoot simulator in response to officers using deadly force.

Greene acknowledges there’s been a chilling effect after officers were prosecuted.

“Yes, absolutely, but our officers do this job because there is something in them.”

Another email reads: “Officers haven’t been hitting the streets as hard since the shooting of Officer Baaklini.”

The officer was shot many times by a teenager in 2017. She survived, and the audio of the shooting is breathtaking and disturbing.

“I do understand officers’ reluctancy because of the culture right now in the entire nation, as well as the use of force and officers being scrutinized for all their actions.”

Many emails complained about staffing. “It goes without saying we need additional help,” Greene said.

Currently there are 259 sworn officers in Portsmouth with 36 vacancies. Greene says, “we are working with an outside consultant in order to bring in a new entry level process to make sure we have the best candidates.”

Another email reads: “There are still a few problematic detectives in the Investigative Bureau.”  Greene responded, “I do not see any issues that would be damaging that we would not be able to work through.”

A big issue noted is that Portsmouth’s pay for officers is one of the lowest in Hampton Roads.

The chief along with Portsmouth Human Resources are developing an officer retention program.

“We need to show the officers who have been here, loyal and dedicated for a number of years, that we are working on options to keep those individuals,” Greene added.

Another big improvement, Portsmouth street officers are given training and leeway to do detective work. “If the officers are at the crime scene we encourage them to process the scene rather than call the detective and wait for detective to come out.”

Chief Greene is also concerned about crime involving gangs and juveniles.

“We actually partnered with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and ATF to have a gang prevention program in partnership with the Portsmouth Public School System.”

As we left she took us from the conference room to her office.  

On the wall is a line from Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”

“I look at that to help remind me everyday when I go through trials and tribulations and things that seem to get me down or overwhelmed that I can do it. I can do it through God.”

Six months later the jury is still out on department dysfunction, but Chief Greene leaves the impression she gets it, and is making the Portsmouth Police Department a better place to work.

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